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A place of dialogue and brotherhood  between believers and nonbelievers

· The Pope’s Message for the inauguration of the Court of the Gentiles in Paris ·

Two days of discussion on the topic, “The Enlightenment, religion, common reason”, ended in Paris on Friday evening, 25 March, inaugurating the Courtyard of the Gentiles project. The permanent structure for encounter and dialogue between believers and non-believers, desired by the Pontifical Council for Culture, was presented in Bologna last February. The theme of the event addressed to the young people, gathered in the square outside Notre Dame Cathedral, was: “On the threshold of the Unknown”. The event included music, theatre, accounts, sound and light and took place while a Prayer Vigil organized by the Taizé Community was being celebrated inside the cathedral. The following is a translation of Benedict XVI’s Video Message, which was written in French and dated 25 March. The Holy Father was broadcast reading it on maxi-screens.

Dear young people, dear friends!

I know that at the invitation of Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, the Archbishop of Paris, and of Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, you are gathered in great numbers in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. I greet all of you, together with our brothers and friends from the Taizé Community. I am grateful to the Pontifical Council for having taken up and extended my invitation to open a number of “Courts of the Gentiles” within the Church. This simile refers to the vast open space near the Temple of Jerusalem where all those who did not share the faith of Israel could approach the Temple and ask questions about religion. There they could meet the scribes, speak of faith and even pray to the unknown God. Indeed, the Court was then an area of separation, since Gentiles did not have the right to enter the consecrated area, yet Jesus Christ came to “ break down the dividing wall ” between Jews and Gentiles, and to “ reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility in himself ”. In the words of St Paul, “ He came and preached peace ” (cf. Eph 2:14-17).

At the heart of the “City of Light”, in front of the magnificent masterpiece of French religious culture which is Notre Dame de Paris, a great court has been created in order to give a fresh impetus to respectful and friendly encounter between people of differing convictions. You young people, believers and non-believers alike, have chosen to come together this evening, as you do in your daily lives, in order to meet one another and to discuss the great questions of human existence. Nowadays many people acknowledge that they do not belong to any religion, yet they long for a new world, a world that is freer, more just and united, more peaceful and happy. In speaking to you tonight, I think of all the things you have to say to each other. Those of you who are non-believers challenge believers in particular, by demanding of them the witness of a life consistent with the faith they profess and by your rejection of any distortion of religion which would make it unworthy of man. Those of you who are believers long to tell your friends that the treasure dwelling within you is meant to be shared, it raises questions, it calls for reflection. The question of God is not a menace to society, it is not a threat to a truly human life! The question of God must not be absent from the other great questions of our time.

Dear friends, you should build bridges between you. Take advantage of this opportunity to discover, deep within your conscience and with serious, thought-out arguments, the ways which lead to profound dialogue. You have so much to say to one another! Do not turn away from the challenges and issues before you!

I am convinced that the encounter of faith and reason enables us to find ourselves. But all too often reason falters in the face of self-interest and the lure of profit, and is forced to regard the latter as the ultimate criterion. The quest for truth is not easy. But each of us is called to make a courageous decision to seek the truth, precisely because there can be no shortcut to the happiness and beauty of a life of genuine fulfilment. Jesus says as much in the Gospel: “ The truth will make you free ”.

Dear young people, it is up to you, in your own countries and in Europe as a whole, to help believers and non-believers to rediscover the path of dialogue. Religions have nothing to fear from a just secularity, one that is open and allows individuals to live in accordance with what they believe according to their conscience. If we are to build a world of liberty , equality and fraternity , then believers and non-believers must feel free to be just that, equal in their right to live as individuals and in community in accordance with their convictions; and fraternal in their relations with one another. One of the reasons for the creation of this Court of the Gentiles is to encourage such feelings of fraternity, over and above our individual convictions yet not denying our differences. And on an even deeper level, to recognize that God alone, in Christ, grants us inner freedom and the possibility of truly encountering one another as brothers and sisters.

Our first step, the first thing you can do together, is to respect, help and love each and every human being, because he or she is a creature of God and in a certain way the road that leads to God. In following up what you have experienced this evening, work to break down the barriers of fear of others, of strangers, of those who are different; this fear often springs from mutual ignorance, scepticism or indifference. Work to create bonds with other young people, without distinction and keeping in mind those who are poor or lonely, unemployed, ill or on the fringes of society.

Dear young people, what you can share is not only your experience of life, but also your approach to prayer. Believers and non-believers, as you stand in this court of the Unknown, you are also invited to approach the sacred space, to pass through the magnificent portal of Notre Dame and to enter the cathedral for a moment of prayer. For some of you this will be a prayer to a God you already know by faith, but for others it may be a prayer to the Unknown God. Dear young friends who are non-believers, as you join those who are praying in Notre Dame on this day of the Annunciation of the Lord, open your hearts to the sacred texts, let yourselves be challenged by the beauty of the singing and, if you truly desire it, let your deepest feelings rise towards the Unknown God.

I am happy to have been able to speak to you this evening for the inauguration of the Court of the Gentiles. I hope you will be able to join me at the other events to which I have invited you, especially the World Youth Day to be held in Madrid this coming summer. The God whom believers learn to know invites you to discover him and to find ever fuller life in him. Do not be afraid! As you walk together towards a new world, seek the Absolute, seek God, even if for you he is the Unknown God. And may this God, who loves each and every one of you, bless you and keep you. He is counting on you to take care of others and of the future, and you can count on him!

From the Vatican, 25 March 2011




St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 14, 2019